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The secret to attracting mainframe talent during a skills crisis


May 14, 2023
The secret to attracting mainframe talent during a skills crisis


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The tech industry is in the midst of a hurricane, with leaders balancing difficult economic conditions, budget pressures, and client pressure for the newest innovations and tech-driven services. Between focusing on company output and client needs and shoring up their organization by building a robust talent pool, tech leaders’ priorities are, understandably, torn.

Making this pressure even more challenging is the fact that tech talent is becoming increasingly difficult to come by, something that is particularly felt within the area of mainframe. New research from Deloitte found that 79% of business leaders saw acquiring the right resources and skills as their top mainframe-related challenge. 

Defying the odds

There is a unique and challenging set of factors hindering the search for mainframe talent: an aging workforce, combined with new workers who are unaware or unconvinced that mainframe holds a future for them. 

Organizations need a new approach to rise to this challenge and inspire new talent to build a career in mainframe.


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Why mainframe matters

Mainframes remain the foundation of much of modern IT. Across all industries, it’s trusted to run 30 billion business transactions daily, with 92 of the top 100 banks, 67 of the Fortune 100 companies, four of the top five airlines and seven of the top 10 global retailers all relying on the technology to run their IT environments. This reputation has been built because mainframe is reliable, secure, and able to process large quantities of data, making it perfectly placed to run mission-critical applications.

Across the industry, IT teams are working to modernize their systems, and mainframe is undergoing a similar change. However, this is not to say that mainframe is going away. On the contrary, we’re seeing mainframe adapt into a hybrid structure where the best of mainframe is combined with the best of cloud. The result is a new infrastructure that needs individuals with mainframe skills to be a guiding hand and direct this new future of modern IT. 

While mainframe may appear daunting to those starting their careers, it is an area that opens many doors in the tech industry. It is crucial we inspire IT talent to consider mainframe and support them as they start in the industry. 

The possibilities of a mainframe career

There are several selling points to a career in mainframe. At its core, it is varied — encompassing a range of roles from product development to capacity management, operations to compliance — and each role is in high demand. Perhaps, however, the most tantalizing possibility is that through your mainframe skills, you’ll have the opportunity to be an integral component of a business’s technology strategy.

Modernization and integration pathways are creating opportunities for individuals with mainframe skills to get involved in the developments that move an organization past the limitations imposed by its legacy IT estate and into its ambitious future. 

The trick for leaders is to build an effective talent pipeline that supports people throughout their careers, from developing skills to meaningfully putting those skills into action in the workplace. Programs such as mainframe academies can be valuable entry points for people entering the field. Building an effective pathway that emphasizes flexibility and diversity is an important way that organizations can support new workers as they learn skills and advance in your team with new opportunities.

These types of programs must exist alongside an organizational culture that encourages participation from all levels of the company, from technical experts to global leadership. Bringing different team members into this “technical community of training” gives individuals a chance to take on a mentor role and train new recruits through their experience. This type of program gives further dimension to your training, providing both high-level expertise and on-the-job experience, which will be key in giving your new starters a well-rounded experience of a mainframe role. Promoting a community of training inspires your new recruits to get stuck into your organization while also encouraging your more experienced team members to invest time back into the wider team through mentoring the next generation of mainframe talent.

Training the next generation

It’s crucial the training covers all mainframe disciplines in both a virtual and in-person setting. Remote training can be as effective as in-person courses, as it enables new starters to go through the content in their own time. Online courses, such as WebX or CPD, can be useful tools for getting your team set up at the start of their career. This type of flexible approach communicates to new talent that you’re committed to their training, ambition, and skills advancement; essentially, that you’re not afraid to invest time and money into their careers and that you’re motivated for them to excel. 

Tailoring your programs to individual skill sets is an excellent way to inspire all candidates regardless of their prior experience. Design your program to challenge each person without overwhelming them, and give each prospective employee a chance to test out mainframe and feel suitably prepared to tackle mainframe challenges outside of training.

Building multiple entry points into your programs is an effective way to separate your candidates and tier any training to accommodate a range of experiences. A beginners’ level, for example, could encompass basic skills, which you can then build upon with lab experience before advancing your candidates into a permanent placement within your workforce.

Furthermore, establishing steps and phases for candidates to work through gives structure to your program and clear progress markers. So, if your candidates are struggling to evolve a certain skillset, for example, they’ll be able to assess where they’re going wrong and what aspects to target specifically. This process works to the benefit of the candidate while ensuring you’re building successful individuals in the field.

Preparing your candidates in this end-to-end way builds their skills while gradually exposing them to the demands of the industry and showing them the value of working in an industry like mainframe. 

Why the future is bright for mainframe 

There are many new opportunities for mainframe on the horizon. As leaders advance integration and modernization processes, we’re seeing mainframe brought in line with the needs of modern businesses. Modern programming languages are, for example, increasingly able to be used on mainframe. Furthermore, as businesses move their workloads from mainframe to cloud, we’ll start to see the platform be used for next-generation technologies. Alongside this, we can expect to see the introduction of more DevOps and self-service approaches to improve the efficiency of running mainframes. 

The trajectory for a career in mainframe is, therefore, set to blossom. However, without the right support systems, talent will be turned away from the industry before properly considering it. The industry is currently under pressure to fill the skills gap, and, as it stands, the tactics deployed by many aren’t inspiring new talent to join the industry and support mainframe as it evolves. 

Companies that look to be a driving force in training, mentorship and other talent reward schemes will be the ones that build a strong mainframe team and benefit in the long term. Failing to act is no longer an option. IT organizations must look to build a strong foundation now if they hope to make mainframe a valuable part of their future and not leave it behind gathering cobwebs in their past.

Mike Pennaz is head of mainframe strategy, integration and practice at Ensono.


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